QUIET RIPPLES

The triumphant feeling of being free, of knowing that Jack loved her, of knowing that her mother had let her go, was all too short for Rose. She stood closely next to Jack, wondering if the feeling of chaos, of the hopelessness of their situation, was dawning on him, too. He had been so determined, just a moment or two ago, to get her on a boat. Now, he looked like he wanted her to stay with him.

The night seemed eerily quiet in spite of the clamor around them. She looked at him, trying to see him without him seeing her. They looked at each other, their eyes communicating more than words ever could. She shook her head, biting her lip as she looked up at him, wondering how she could possibly go. He smiled lovingly, taking her by the shoulders, his blue eyes gazing deeply into hers. In that moment, the noise of the lifeboats being prepared, of people moving and shouting, slowly disappeared. His eyes showed her the only possible answer there could be. Nevertheless, she found herself fighting the inevitable.

Hands shaking, she grasped his shirt, her mind going back to earlier that night, to being in the car with him. She felt warmer as she thought about his kisses, about the caring, gentle way he had held her, his breath warm against her skin. Tears came to her eyes as she felt him trying to push her away, trying to push her towards the boat. She pressed her face against his shoulder, his soft words going through her mind.

His arms closed around her, and she felt his strained breath against her hair. He didn't want her to go, but he knew that they had no choice. The officer motioned for more people to join the small group already seated in the lifeboat. Jack nodded to him and helped Rose to step up to get on the boat. Their hands clung together despite the growing distance.

The officer, aware only of his own responsibilities, pushed her into the boat. Her eyes filled with tears as she was finally wrenched away from Jack. She reached out to him, her fingers gripping his, until the boat's downward motion pulled them apart. Her eyes widened as she gazed up at him, wishing that he was safely beside her instead of trapped on a sinking ship.

Jack stared down at Rose as the boat descended, struggling to control the emotions welling up inside him. This might be the last time he would see her, sinking slowly away from him in the small, fragile boat. It seemed unthinkable that the open boat was the safer place to be, safer than the unsinkable ship, which even now felt solid and sturdy. But it was the seemingly safe ship, which people had believed with such faith was unsinkable, that might part them forever.

Only a few days before, he had never met Rose. His whole life had revolved around his next bit of adventure, on wondering where he would sleep and where his next meal would come from. He had known many beautiful women in his life, but none had affected him as Rose had, none able to capture his heart, none able to make him feel like he felt at that moment. He didn't want this to be the last time he saw her. Rose was the only woman who could make him feel such pain as he watched her leave, even though he knew that it would save her life.

His hands grasped the railing. It was cold against his skin. His knuckles were turning white as he focused all his pain, all his feelings into that motion. He felt how his nostrils moved, and a lonely tear escaped his eye, his controlled way of keeping himself in check. She was moving in the boat now, fidgeting, her eyes on the deck above her. Jack swallowed, more conflicting feelings grabbing him. Stay, Rose. Stay there.

Rose looked up at him, her heart aching more than she had ever thought possible. She was leaving him there, on a ship that would soon be at the bottom of the ocean, with only sea, ice, and darkness surrounding him. There weren't enough boats. The voice ticking inside Rose told her to get back on the ship, to spend her last hours with him, to love him, to make sure he knew how much she loved him. She moved nervously, trying to decide against jumping back. His voice tore through to her heart, overshadowing her own.

"I'm a survivor, Rose. I'll be all right."

She sank down again. Her eyes met his. He looked relieved, but now she saw the tears coursing down his pale cheeks. Jack…oh, Jack, not trying to hide his feelings. The water that moved down her skin felt warm and comforting, but was soon turned to icy roads. Please, Jack, be all right. I just found you. I just found you and I can't bear the thought of losing you.

Once again, her hands moved, her legs shaking as she once again contemplated jumping back. Once again, she felt Jack's words, his eyes on her soothing her into staying put.

The boat hit the lapping waves with a quiet splash. Rose looked up. He was gone. Swallowing her tears, she watched as the crew members started rowing away from the ship, away from the inevitable suction. People around her were quiet, looking at the ship with a mixture of anger and petrified fascination. Anger because they had been dragged away from warm cabins to spend a cold April night in a fragile boat. Fear because it was becoming more and more clear that there was no safety on the unsinkable Titanic.

Rose felt neither of those emotions. She just wanted Jack there with her, safe and warm. She looked up at the ship again, hoping to see him, hoping to see him getting on a boat. She didn't see his face as he stole a last glance at her from somewhere closer to the stern of the ship. He turned quickly, running for safety. He already knew that waiting for a boat would be fruitless. He saw people panicking, slowly realizing their fate. He saw people struggling to get aboard a boat, saw Cal buying his way aboard a boat. Still no men allowed. Officially.

Jack, with the instincts of a true survivor, ran towards the stern of the ship.

*****

Rose stared at the ship, transfixed, as the stern rose higher and higher out of the water. Jack was there somewhere…at least, she assumed he was. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe he had found his way into a boat after all.

A terrible cracking sound rent the air, followed by the terrified screams of the people still on the ship. As Rose watched in horror, the ship split in two, the stern falling back to the water while the bow broke away.

Suddenly frantic, Rose struggled to her feet, rocking the small lifeboat precariously. Cries of alarm came from the other passengers as the boat tipped, threatening to spill them all out into the icy sea. Someone reached out and pulled her back down, but she remained kneeling, tears streaking her face as she watched the stern section rise out of the water again.

For a moment, the stern bobbed calmly in the icy water, giving her hope that it might stay afloat. She could hear the screams of the people from what remained of the ship, but if it stayed afloat, they might be able to cling to the railing or to objects on the deck until help arrived.

Her hope was short-lived. Even as she thought about it, the stern began to sink into the water, people losing their grips and falling into the icy sea. She thought about what Jack had told her two nights before, when she had been ready to jump into the sea behind Titanic. It wasn't the fall that would have killed her, but the deep cold of the water. It would be the same for the people on the sinking stern. If Jack was among them…

Rose shook the thought away, slowly sitting back down in the lifeboat. He had to have found a way to survive. He might be on a lifeboat even now. She had to think of that. It was all she had to cling to.

*****

Jack clung to the railing, his feet slipping on the damp wood as the stern of the ship rose higher into the air. Around him, people clung desperately to the railing and to each other, some losing their grip and sliding away, others jumping from the ship in terror, preferring the dark, icy water to the ship that was tilting ever further.

Next to Jack, a man climbed over the railing, his eyes wide with fear. As Jack watched, unable to do anything more than cling to the railing, the man jumped, his body hitting the propellers below with a metallic thud and tumbling into the water far below.

Jack shuddered, planting his feet against the tilting deck and holding onto the railing. He turned his head away, catching a glimpse of a woman clinging to the railing and holding her child close, murmuring brokenly to him. Beside her, Helga Dahl, the girl that Fabrizio had flirted with on the ship, clung to the railing, tears streaking her face. There was no sign of her family or of Fabrizio.

Jack felt a chill inside that had nothing to do with the bitterly cold air. He hadn't seen Fabrizio since he had left the common room to stand at the bow. It had been daylight then, and now…he had no idea how late it was. The disaster had taken away his usually keen sense of how much time had passed. He could only hope that Fabrizio was safely in a boat, and not among those clinging to the deck, or worse yet, in the icy sea below.

There was a sudden groaning, cracking noise from the ship. Sparks flew upward from the section of the ship just above the waterline as it split in two, people tumbling into the dark chasm. The stern fell back to the water, crushing the people swimming below.

Jack was nearly pitched overboard at the abrupt motion, stopped only by his death grip on the railing. People cried out, some in terror and others in relief, believing that they were saved. Jack just shook his head, knowing better.

As the stern began to tilt upward again, he climbed over the railing, clinging to it as people began to lose their grips and fall again. Next to him, another man had climbed over the railing. He looked down, debating jumping, then took a long swig from a flask of some kind of liquor.

He glanced at Jack, then offered him the flask. Jack took it gratefully, taking a swig before handing it back to him. The liquor warmed his insides, but did nothing to still the fear churning inside him. He envied the other man's calm—but then, if he were drunk, he might not be afraid, either.

Jack heard a scream from just below him, and looked down in horror to see Helga dangling from the railing, her eyes wide with terror. Even as he reached to grab her hand, she lost her grip on the railing, falling and hitting hard against the deck before tumbling into the water far below.

Jack stared down at the place where she had fallen, knowing that there was nothing that he could do for her, and was suddenly more grateful than ever that Rose was safe in a lifeboat. He shuddered at the thought of watching her tumble into the sea, perhaps dead from hitting something before she ever reached the water.

The quiet bobbing of the stern, which had given him hope for a moment, changed to a downward motion. Water exploded upward as the stern half of the ship began to sink, moving faster and faster as it flooded. People panicked, some jumping away from previously secure handholds and into the water below.

Jack glanced at the man beside him, who stared at the water with a kind of dull drunkenness, then loosened his grip on the railing. The water was only a few feet below him now. Taking a deep breath, he let go just as the ship disappeared beneath the water.

*****

Rose watched in frozen horror as the unsinkable ship disappeared beneath the waves. The Titanic was gone forever—but it was soon replaced by the screams and thrashing of over a thousand people in the water, their screams carrying across the night, begging the boats to come back and save them.

Rose lurched to the feet again, sure that she heard Jack's voice among them. "We have to go back!" she cried. "We have to help them!"

"We can't go back," the burly seaman told her, motioning for her to sit back down. "They'll swamp the boat, pull us straight down with them."

"We don't have room," added a passenger, looking around the small boat.

"We do have room!" Rose insisted. "We could fit a few more people into this boat."

"Which ones?" the seaman asked her. "All of them want to get into a boat. They'd be all over us."

"We could row around the outside and pick up the ones strong enough to make it that far," Rose suggested. Jack was a survivor. Surely he would be able to swim that far.

"No," the seaman told her firmly. "We're not going back."

"But—"

"No!" He glared at her, daring her to challenge him again.

Rose sank back onto her seat, shaking. She didn't know what to do.

*****

Jack struggled against the suction as the ship headed for the ocean floor. His ears hurt from being pulled so deep, and his body was slammed against other people as all of them, alive or dead, were whirled and tossed by the swirling vortex.

Jack's breath was knocked from him as someone slammed into him from behind, but he kept struggling, desperate to reach the surface before he breathed in the water. Freezing was a bad way to die, of that he was sure, but it beat drowning. At least on the surface, he had a chance.

In the swirling darkness, Jack wasn't sure which way was up, but he tried to swim anyway, hoping that he was heading for the surface. He seemed to have been underwater a very long time, and he had involuntarily breathed in a little of the salt water, but the pressure on his ears seemed to be easing, giving him hope that he was near the surface.

Suddenly, he was above the water, and he drew in a deep breath of the cold air, choking and gagging as he coughed up the water in his lungs. Around him, people screamed and struggled, trying desperately to find a way out of the painfully cold water. A fight broke out over a floating barrel, and a man grabbed a little girl in a lifebelt and pushed her under the water, trying to climb atop her in his desperation to be out of the water.

Jack reacted instinctively. He was at a great disadvantage, and he knew it, having no lifebelt to keep him afloat. The heavy wool coat was soaked, pulling him downward when he stopped for even a moment, but he couldn't let the frightened man drown the little girl. He swam towards them, grabbing the man and punching him several times.

"Get off of her!" he shouted, pushing the man away. He turned to the girl, stopping when he saw who it was. "Cora?"

Cora Cartmell looked at Jack, her dark eyes filled with tears. She coughed hard, spitting out seawater, before she reached out to him, her tiny voice almost inaudible. "Help!"

"Cora, it's me. Jack. Do you recognize me?"

She nodded, grabbing onto him. "Jack…" she wailed, clinging to him.

"Come on, Cora. We have to find some way to get out of the water." He grabbed her lifebelt, but almost went under as the heavy coat pulled him down. For a moment, he considered taking it off, but knew that he would be even more at the mercy of the bitter cold without it. It may have been wet, but at least wool was warm when wet—anyone who came from a cold climate knew that. Without it, death was certain.

Cora screamed, grabbing his arm as he began to sink downwards. He struggled back up, wrapping both arms around her lifebelted form and turning her over so that she faced upwards, safe from breathing in the water. Already clumsy from the cold, he kicked his feet, the water resisting his heavy shoes as he tried to swim.

In spite of the slowness of his progress, though, he was slowly moving away from the crowd. Cora looked around, shivering violently as Jack tried to find something to get them out of the water with—or at least her. Suddenly, she screamed, looking to the side.

Jack looked to see what had frightened her. A black French bulldog swam toward them, then abruptly changed course, heading out into the open sea. Beyond that, he saw a something floating—something that appeared to be a large piece of wood.

He headed for it. Cora was crying, frightened by the dog, but he didn't have time to stop and comfort her. He had to get them out of the water as soon as possible.

When he reached the piece of wood—a piece of paneling that had broken free from the sinking ship and bobbed to the surface then the ship went down—he hefted Cora onto it, then climbed on himself. The wood tilted precariously, almost dumping them back into the water, before he centered himself and Cora and steadied it. It would have been too small for two adults, and was almost too small for an adult and a small child, but at least it got them out of the water.

He pulled Cora close, trying to share what little warmth he had left with her. She was still crying, frightened both by the dog and by everything else that had happened that night.

"Monster…he's gonna come get us…" she sobbed, clinging to Jack.

"No…no, Cora. That wasn't a monster, that was a dog. It won't hurt you."

"Don't like doggies…"

"He won't come back. He went away out there." Jack pointed, trying to convince Cora that she was safe—from that threat, at least.

"I'm cold."

"I know, Cora. I'm cold, too. We just have wait for the boats to come back, okay? They had to row away from the suction, but now they'll be getting ready to come back and get us," Jack told her, hoping that it was true. The screams from the water were lessening, but he saw no sign of any boats coming back.

"Where's my daddy?" Cora asked. "Jack, where's my daddy?"

"I don't know, Cora." He felt his heart clench at the thought of the child losing her father—he knew that she had lost her mother before she and father had set sail on the ship. If he survived, he vowed, he would help her look for her father, and if he was gone—he would do his best to take care of her himself. He knew what it was like to be left alone in the world, and she was too little to be left alone.

"He's drownded," Cora told Jack almost matter-of-factly, in a tone of voice that told him that she didn't understand what had happened.

"How do you know he's drowned, Cora?"

"We was at the gates and we couldn't get through 'cause it was stuck, and a big wave of water came up and drownded him. And I couldn't find him, but I found a hole in the wall and climbed into it, and the water didn't come with me, and then I got into a room, and a mean lady grabbed my hand and made me go outside. She said we needed a boat, but I wanted to find Daddy. There weren't no boats, either, and she falled into the water and drownded, just like Daddy, and I ain't seen 'em at all. And the water drownded me, too, and then that mean man tried get me, and then you got me, but I still want my daddy."

Jack looked at Cora sadly, knowing how little a chance there was that Bert Cartmell had survived, but he didn't tell her that. She had enough to think about, with them lying on a piece of wood and nearly frozen, and the boats showing no sign of coming back.

"We'll look for him, Cora, after we're rescued. Okay?"

"When will that be?"

"I don't know, Cora. Soon, I hope."

*****

Rose sat huddled in the boat, her coat wrapped around her feet. The screams had died down in the water beyond, with only a few faint cries for help still echoing across the water. None of the boats had made any attempt to go back. She could see them congregating about fifty feet away, bumping together loudly as flashlights lit the scene. Many of the boats were less than half-full, while a few hundred yards away, the faint cries for help grew fainter.

"I don't think there's enough of them left to swamp the boat," she told the seaman in charge of the lifeboat. "Can't we please go back?"

He shook his head. "I'm not going to risk it. Besides, most of them are steerage, anyway. They knew the risks of riding on a ship."

A few steerage passengers gasped, their gazes growing hostile as they stared at the crewman. Rose stiffened, her eyes flashing angrily.

"They have as much right to live as anyone else," she told him. "And they didn't know the risks. Everyone thought the ship was unsinkable."

"Lady, there's no such thing as an unsinkable ship," the crewman replied, unmoved by her plea.

"Obviously!" Rose snapped. "But it was advertised as unsinkable. We all boarded this ship in good faith, and now look at us!"

A few women nodded, agreeing with her. Another woman spoke up in a timid voice.

"I think my husband is out there. Perhaps we could row around the outside like she said…"

"No!" the crewman snapped, tired of having his authority questioned. "We are not going anywhere."

"Yes, we are," Rose informed him, her patience at an end. "Didn't you hear her say that her husband is probably out there? How can we let any more people die?"

"Young lady, I am in charge of this boat—"

"Then take us back! Take us back, or I'll have your job!"

He just looked at her, snorting contemptuously.

"I will," Rose insisted, her voice taking on its most snobby upper class tone. "My name is Rose DeWitt Bukater, fiancée of Caledon Hockley, who even now might be out there waiting to be rescued. He's a powerful man, sir, and I wouldn't cross him."

"If he's out there, he's probably dead by now."

"His family is very powerful. Hockley Steel contributed several tons of steel to the Titanic's construction." Rose didn't like Cal, but she was willing to use his name to get the seaman to take them back—even though she was no longer engaged to him. And if they did find Cal, she would pull him into the boat. No one deserved such a horrible death, not even him.

The crewman glanced at her, torn between her threat—which very well might cost him his job—and the need to protect the passengers in the small boat.

Finally, he sighed, taking up an oar, after he saw that Rose and a few of the other women had already done so. "All right, miss. We'll go back."

*****

The boat moved slowly across the water, the oars thumping against the sides of the boat in the hands of the inexperienced women. As they reached the periphery of the area that the victims had spread out into, it became apparent that there were few survivors. Most of the people they saw were dead, frozen to death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

Still, Rose did not give up hope. Jack was a survivor. Hadn't he told her himself that he had survived falling through thin ice on Lake Wissota when he was a boy? And he had been on his own for a long time, sleeping under bridges and the like. No doubt he had grown used to the cold, at least to some extent.

She scanned the bodies as they passed them, doing their best not to hit them with their oars, but she didn't see Jack among them. In one way, she was relieved—he wasn't among the dead that she saw—but in another, not finding him filled her with even more anxiety. Where was he? Was he safe in a boat? Was he somewhere out in the dark water, too far away for her to see? Or had he drowned when the ship went down, pulled down into a watery grave from which his body might never be recovered?

Rose shuddered at the thought, resolutely pushing it from her mind. There were so many people on the surface, he had to be among them—or safe in a lifeboat.

In spite of their best efforts, the oars thumped against the bodies in the water. One woman fainted, dropping her oar with a splash. Two other women moved to tend to her, while the others moved grimly on, searching among the bodies for survivors.

Rose gasped in shock as a man who had appeared dead suddenly opened his eyes and grabbed onto the edge of the boat, tipping it precariously. Several women screamed, both at the shocking sight and from the fear that the boat would overturn.

The crewman in charge of the boat leaned forward, grabbing the man's hands with the help of some of the women and pulling him into the boat, where he sat soaked, shivering, and smelling strongly of liquor. The seaman stared at him, shaking his head in disgust at the sodden form of Baker Joughin, the same notorious drunk who had shared his liquor with Jack on the stern.

They moved forward slowly, their spirits falling at the sight of so many dead. Rose was beginning to wish that she hadn't insisted that they go back when a faint whimpering was heard from nearby. They turned toward it, and found a small baby still cradled in the arms of its dead mother. The infant was nearly frozen itself, but still had enough life in it to cry.

One of the women leaned forward and pried the baby from its dead mother's arms, wrapping it in her shawl and rocking it gently. The others stared, a bit of hope returning. If a baby could survive, why not someone else?

They had nearly reached the other side of the vast lake of bodies when one of the little girls who had been placed in the boat by their father screamed and lurched forward, reaching for someone in the water. "Daddy!" she screamed, nearly tumbling overboard. "Daddy!"

Her mother grabbed her back as her sister began to wail, pressing both girls' heads against her shoulders and covering their eyes. "Don't look, darlings. Don't look," she begged, turning her head away from the sight of her dead husband.

Rose looked down, her eyes widening at the sight of the man who had put his wife and daughters into the boat, telling them that it would be good-bye for a little while…only for a little while. He, too, had perished in the sinking, and the little while had become a lifetime.

The girls were still screaming and sobbing when the crewman turned to the women, many of whom sat frozen in shock and misery, and told them that they were going back to the rest of the boats. No one objected. There didn't seem to be any point in searching further, not after what they had seen.

Rose moved her oar dully through the water, her head bowed. They hadn't found Jack. If he was among the dead, she wouldn't know until a survivors' list was posted. But if he was alive in one of the boats, safe and dry, she might find him while they waited for rescue, or see him on the rescue ship.

She closed her eyes, unable to bear the sight of the bodies in the water any longer. She couldn't let herself hope, only to be disappointed. Very few third class men had made it to a boat, and she couldn't count upon Jack being one of them.

Her eyes closed and her thoughts turned inward, Rose failed to notice the motionless forms lying on a piece of wood as they passed by—or that one of them lifted its head and tried to call out. She did hear the shouts of an officer on an another boat as he went back to search for survivors. But even this didn't encourage her to open her eyes. She knew that his efforts would be in vain.

*****

"Is anyone alive out there? Can anyone hear me?"

Jack lifted his head again as a second lifeboat moved through the water searching for survivors. Another boat had passed by just a few minutes earlier, but no one on the boat had seen them floating on the piece of wood, or heard his faint cry for help.

Jack looked at Cora, who lay still and silent on the board, her eyes closed. His heart sank at the sight, as he realized that she had probably died. But he couldn't abandon her without knowing for sure.

Lifting her head, Jack winced at the sound of her frozen hair ripping free of the wood. He put his hand in front of her mouth, not expecting to feel anything, but hoping against hope that she might still be alive, that she might still be breathing.

Just as he was about to give up hope, he felt a puff of air, slightly warmer than the surrounding environs, and saw the steam of the little girl's breath rising into the air. Filled with renewed hope, he wrapped his arms around her and rolled off the piece of paneling and back into the icy water. Cora whimpered slightly, even in her unconscious state, and Jack tried to move his frozen limbs in the direction of the lifeboat, which was even now moving away from them.

In despair, Jack stopped, knowing that he could never catch up with it, and that his voice was too frozen to let them know that they were there. He looked around, hoping to see something—anything—that he might use to alert the people in the boat to his presence.

He finally saw it. Just a short distance away, an officer clung to a piece of wood, frozen to death. His whistle was still in his mouth, gleaming faintly in the starlight. Kicking his legs and swimming awkwardly, trying to keep Cora's head above the water, Jack made his way to the dead officer.

Pulling the icy whistle from the officer's lips, Jack blew on it, faintly at first, then louder and louder. He heard a voice echo across the water. "Come about!"

Clinging to both Cora and the whistle, Jack refused to let go of either until they were safely in the boat.

*****

Rose sat huddled in the lifeboat, her feet tucked beneath her to shield them from the cold. She hugged herself gently, waiting.

As the first light of morning appeared in the eastern sky, a ship appeared on the horizon, moving towards them. The surviving officers and crew members lighted flares, directing the approaching ship to them.

Rose just sat quietly, too lost in her grief to react. She had looked over the other boats, but hadn't seen any sign of Jack. She had seen Cal and her mother—her mother's face had been twisted in misery and Cal had been drinking liquor from a flask offered to him by a steerage man. But she hadn't seen Jack, nor had she seen any sign of Fabrizio, Helga, Cora, or Tommy. It appeared that none of them had survived.

The second rescue boat had come back with three survivors, one a Chinaman who sat wrapped in a blanket, waiting stoically with the rest of the survivors for rescue, and the others a pair wrapped in blankets and huddled together on one of the seats. Rose had looked at them hopefully, hoping that Jack was there, but the taller figure appeared to be holding a small child, and Rose saw no reason why Jack would have a child with him. The taller figure had been swathed in blankets from head to toe, so Rose had finally looked away, assuming that it was a mother and child who had been saved from the water.

The infant that they had picked up began to wail softly. They had feared at first that the baby was too far gone to be saved, but when it had clung to life, a nursing mother on the boat had fed it, reviving the infant. She had wrapped the baby up in a large blanket with her own baby, allowing her own infant to warm the half-frozen child. They had soon determined that the rescued baby was a boy, and the nursing mother had held both her own infant daughter and the tiny boy close, rocking them and comforting them.

Rose looked up as the rescue ship approached, stopping some fifty yards from them. Rousing herself from her misery, she picked up an oar and began to help row the tiny lifeboat in the direction of the only ship that had responded to the Titanic's pleas for help.

*****

Jack watched as the rescue ship approached, lit by its own windows and by the flares of the officers and crew members. He sat quietly as they began rowing towards it, Cora still cradled in his arms.

The girl had not awakened, and her breathing had grown ever fainter as the night had passed. Jack had continued to hold her close, but he didn't have much hope for her survival.

When they reached the ship, he finally let go of her, allowing her to be lifted up in a sling. He followed her a few minutes later, too weak from his ordeal to climb the ladder onto the ship.

Once on the safe, solid deck, he stood at the railing for a few moments, resting, before a stewardess came and picked up Cora, carrying her towards the ship's hospital.

Jack followed. He had vowed to take care of Cora, and he would, whether she recovered or died.

*****

Rose sat in the first class dining saloon, sipping gratefully at the hot soup and tea she had been served. She was cold, hungry, and exhausted, but she couldn't rest yet. Not until she knew what she would do.

She looked up, startled, as she saw Cal and her mother enter the room, deep in conversation. As they passed amongst the groups of huddled survivors, she strained to listen, wanting to know what they were talking about.

"I will search for her, Ruth, if you want me to."

Ruth stopped, shaking her head. "No, Mr. Hockley. I know that Rose is alive and well…I saw her boarding the Carpathia only an hour ago. I've no doubt that she knows we are alive as well, or least that I am alive. If she chooses to come to me, she knows where to find me. If not—she's made her decision. It is her life, and she will do as she chooses."

"Ruth, I must insist…"

"No. Rose made her decision last night. Whatever she does now is up to her, and I will not allow you to interfere. Is this in any way unclear?"

Cal stared at Ruth for a moment, unable to believe what he was hearing. Then he sighed, resigned.

"All right, Ruth. You're right, Rose has made her decision—and I won't try to stop her."

Rose looked down at her soup, her surprise at what she had just heard surpassed only by her indecision. Should she go them, now that Jack was gone? The wedding was off, of course, but she could return to her old life with her mother.

She looked up as Cal turned and walked away. Her eyes met her mother's briefly, and then Ruth nodded to her and turned away, too. It was true. Whatever Rose did next was up to her, and no one would interfere with her life or with her dreams again.

*****

Rose slowly made her way down to steerage. A few people gawked at her, staring at her expensive clothing, but she ignored them, making her way to a bench and settling down. Jack might be gone, but here she felt closer to him. She might even stay, if she so chose.

But now her exhaustion was overcoming her. Lying down on the bench, she ignored the hardness of the wood as she closed her eyes.

*****

Rose awakened abruptly, surprised to find that she had slept the day away. The sun was growing low in the sky as she sat up, her muscles screaming in protest from the unaccustomed exertion of the past twenty-four hours and from the hardness of the bench.

Rubbing her eyes, she got up and began to walk slowly through the steerage area, her head bowed as she passed groups of grieving women and children, a few men among them. She wished that she could go to them and join in their sorrow, for she, too, had lost the man she loved—but somehow it didn't seem right. These women had lost husbands, brothers, sons—some of them had lost their entire families—and it seemed almost obscene for her to be mourning so strongly for a man that she had only known for three days.

Without anything else to do, Rose kept walking, wandering through the steerage area and up to the ship's hospital in second class. She had seen the woman who had cared for the rescued baby walking in that direction, so perhaps she could stop and see how the baby was doing and if they thought it would survive.

When she reached the hospital, Rose opened the door quietly and slipped inside. She walked past the babies first, smiling when she saw the rescued boy sleeping soundly, his tiny backside sticking up in the air as he snuggled beneath a warm blanket. She saw the woman who had rescued him and the woman who had nursed him sitting nearby, watching him sleep, and smiled softly at them, communicating her happiness that the baby had survived.

Walking onward, Rose looked at the other patients, wondering if she knew any of them. She stopped short when she saw the tiny, black-haired girl in the last bed, a blonde-haired man wrapped in blankets watching over her.

Rose stared at them, unable to believe her eyes. There was no doubt that the little girl was Cora Cartmell, and the man looked like—Jack! But that impossible. She had looked for him, and hadn't seen him—unless he had been the blanket-wrapped figure she had seen in the second rescue boat, the one she had thought to be the child's mother.

Taking a deep breath, Rose walked towards them. "Jack?" she whispered, putting her hand on the shoulder of the man.

Jack turned, startled, as he heard Rose's voice. He stared at her, his eyes wide with shock, as though he couldn't believe that she was there. "Rose?" His voice was hoarse from his ordeal the night before.

Rose looked at him, her eyes full of love and relief. He looked terrible, pale and red-eyed from the hypothermia, and still shivering in spite of the blankets wrapped around him, but it was definitely Jack. He had survived.

"Jack…" Rose threw her arms around him. "I thought you'd died. We went back to look for survivors, but we didn't find you, and then another rescue boat went out, but I didn't see you there, either. The only people I saw in the other boat were a Chinaman and someone wrapped in blankets and cradling a child. Was that you?"

Jack put his arms around her. "Yeah, that was me."

Rose blushed, a little embarrassed. "I thought you were the child's mother."

Jack laughed a little, the laugh ending in a cough. He gave her a grin. "Rose, you know I can't be a mother."

Rose giggled a little, blushing even more. "Yes, I know—especially after last night."

It was Jack's turn to blush, but before he could say anything, a little voice came from the bed beside them.

"Jack? Rose? Where's my daddy?"

"Cora!" Jack knelt down beside her, his eyes filled with relief. Even after she had been taken to the ship's hospital, he hadn't been sure that she would live. But now it looked like she would.

"Jack…where's my daddy?"

Jack shook his head sadly. "He isn't here, Cora." Bert Cartmell had not been on any of the survivors' lists.

"Can you go get him?"

"No, Cora." Jack sat down beside her, trying to comfort her. "He isn't on the ship."

"Where is he?"

"In heaven, I think."

"Oh." Cora looked at him sleepily, digesting this fact. After all that had happened the night before, this was more than she could comprehend, so she just nodded. "Okay. Daddy's in heaven." She closed her eyes, dozing off again.

Jack looked at Rose. He had expected tears and protests from Cora, but she didn't seem to understand what had happened. Rose sat down beside them.

"She'll understand eventually," she assured Jack. "But she's so little, and last night was horrible for all of us…just give her time. I didn't understand at first when my father died—and I was fifteen years old. It took a while for it to sink in, but when it did…then I cried for him."

"I was in shock for a while when my parents died, too," Jack admitted. "But I don't remember being so calm about it."

"She's little, Jack. She sees things a different way. She'll understand one day—and she'll be all right. I'm sure of it."

*****

Jack, Rose, and Cora huddled together on the deck as the Carpathia made its way toward Pier 54. The Statue of Liberty loomed over them, a beacon of light in the pouring rain.

Jack stared at the statue, realizing that this was the first time he had been back in America in two and a half years. He was returning older and wiser, with Rose at his side and Cora in his care. None of his friends had survived the sinking. It was a miracle that even he and Cora had survived.

Rose looked at the statue with new appreciation, understanding now how all the immigrants coming to America to be free felt when they saw it. She was free now, her old life behind her. Her mother knew that she was alive, but accepted that Rose was ready to make her own way in the world now. She might go back to visit, but never again would she be locked into the gilded cage that her life had been before.

An officer approached them, making one last list of the survivors before they disembarked. "Can I take your names, please?" he asked, approaching the small group.

Jack looked at Rose, not sure if she wanted him to answer for her or not. They had been together since they had been reunited on the Carpathia, but what would happen after they left? Rose was strong-willed and independent, and she didn't need him. He loved her, but would she want to leave the ship with him? He was responsible for a small child now, a child who was beginning to realize that she would never see her father again, and he didn't know if she was ready for that responsibility.

"Jack Dawson," he began. "Cora Cartmell, and…"

"Rose Dawson," Rose interjected, her heart pounding. What would Jack think of her taking his name?

"Rose?" Jack's face was incredulous as the officer moved on to the next group of survivors.

"I said that I was getting off the ship with you, and I meant it. I'm getting off with you, even if it is a different ship than we expected."

Jack opened his mouth, then closed it, at a loss for words to tell her how much that meant to him. Finally, he just leaned forward and kissed her, whispering, "I love you."

"I love you, too, Jack," Rose whispered back, returning the kiss with a love she had never thought she would feel.

Cora wrapped her arms around their legs, looking up at them. "Jack? Rose?"

They stopped, reaching down and picking her up, and hugging her between them.

"Am I going with you?" Cora wanted to know, clinging to both of them.

"Yes, Cora. You're going with us," Rose assured her, hugging the girl and smiling at Jack.

"Are you gonna be my mommy and daddy?"

"Yes," Jack told her, pulling both Cora and Rose into his embrace. "We will be."

Cora smiled, hugging them both, then snuggled comfortably against them as the ship made its way to the pier, carrying them to their new life.

The End.